The Wicomico Motorsports Park
in Southern Maryland hosted its inaugural Shane Watts’ Dirtwise Riding School
on April 2nd and 3rd, offering intensive instruction, practice, and feedback to 15 – 16 riders on many of the fundamental enduro techniques covered in Watts’ advance rider series videos. The class attracted a mix of riders, skill levels, and bikes and provided a structured series of exercises over two days that in combination can help trail riders with speed, control, safety, and confidence. I was fortunate to have a chance to take the course at a park I ride a lot and with SMIB and other riders whom I'd met previously.
Anyone familiar with the Shane Watts’ advanced rider series videos
– not to mention the trailer
for his riding school – will know precisely what he or she is in for when signing up for the class. Day 1 covers slow speed riding, proper braking, front wheel locking, flat turns, ruts, flat out acceleration, and stoppies. Day 2 builds on these techniques by adding low speed wheelies, grinding, log crossing, ascents and descents, and even ravines. The final day also included trailside instruction at key locations where these and other techniques could be applied successfully to challenging sections.
In terms of Watts himself, what you see is what you get. He’s a former world champion enduro racer still in love with the sport, despite having turned it into a job instructing talented, mediocre, or, like me, knuckleheaded riders every weekend. His riding abilities are incredible and speak for themselves. As an instructor, he’s genuinely great to be around – he’s intelligent, charismatic, good humored, patient, and modest. He uses standard teaching techniques very effectively by first describing the skills, demonstrating them, and providing practice opportunities with clear feedback, tips, and encouragement. He constantly has an eye out for the safety of the group and will admonish missteps in a simple direct manner that achieves results. For Watts, a high priority for teaching the fundamentals is to promote safe, controlled, efficient, and fast riding. Frankly, he offers a rare combination of extraordinary riding and instructional skill that allows students the opportunity to push their own limits with adult supervision and in a manner that achieves results.
But don’t be fooled: The class is challenging, even for more experienced riders. Prospective students would do well to familiarize themselves with Watt’s videos – or even the trailer for the school – in order to have an accurate expectation of what to expect when they sign up for this enduro riding class targeted to moderate- to advanced-riders. Anyone who shows up expecting otherwise is fooling him or herself. The days are long, formal breaks are few, and the instruction takes place rain or shine. Bring hydration packs, cliff bars, and catch your breath at any of the many, at times long, sections when Watts is teaching a new skill. Dismount if resting on your bike doesn’t work for you.
Some may still complain that there aren’t enough bathroom or rest breaks. The fact is, students can always step out to relieve themselves, grab a snack or a drink, or pull their helmets to help cool down during instruction. Likewise, some may feel that they were pushed to try things that were well beyond them. In fact, Watts encouraged riders to self-select into different riding groups while on the warm-up trails, by selecting different sizes of logs for grinding practice, or choosing different areas to attempt during the log clearing exercises. And there’s nothing stopping students from finding their own lines, attempting more proximal challenges, or sitting out sections. In fact, only about a third of the riders in our class attempted the ravine at the end of Day 2. Being in the class doesn’t excuse students from thinking for themselves and making the class work for them. I saw no evidence that Watts thought any differently.
If you are thinking about taking the class, following are some Dos and Don’ts to consider:
- …think this is a beginner’s trails, motocross, or dual sport class. It is an enduro riding class taught by a former world champion enduro racer. While the skills may apply broadly, the aim here is to teach fundamentals for riding trails.
- …expect 1:1 instruction. The ratio for our class was at best 1:16, and in other cases might be as low as 2:25. If you need specific help, seek it out. But don’t expect to get individualized feedback at every turn. The numbers simply don’t permit it.
- …ride a bike that’s new to you. Whether you’re considering bringing a friend’s bike or something you picked up the day before, don’t do it. You need to know the bike you bring to class and to be confident on it in order to make the most of the training opportunities the class presents. Worse, you may even injure yourself. And for those tempted to lend a bike to a friend for a class like this, be sure to collect a deposit first. The trails and courses were littered in plastic and parts by the end of the weekend.
- …overestimate your skill. If you are truly a beginner or a cautious intermediate rider, don’t like the idea of picking up your bike 10 – 20 times a day, are unable to assist others, or otherwise think you are all that and a bag of chips, consider skipping the class this round. Get a training video and start building up from there. If you’ve never pulled a wheelie, aren’t comfortable with riding beginner level trails like those at Wicomico, or have a bike that’s more road-oriented than dirt, it may be best to find another class. Injuries and trailside mechanicals resulting from such overestimates are terrible for those directly involved, certainly, but they also affect everyone in the class.
- …start by previewing the Dirtwise riding class trailers and videos. Doing so will help to manage expectations about the contents of the class, what kinds of bikers will likely attend, and what sort of gear to bring.
- …push your limits, but not so far as to put yourself or others at risk. Showing up with a lighter, dirt-oriented bike that you know will enable you to push into the next skill level on many of the exercises. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, drop your bike, or swim in the mud like that rider in the trailer. It’s all about learning.
- …help others. Between Watts and the various riders, there were decades of riding experience in our class. It was good to see students sharing tips, helping each other when they’d fallen. Go, push yourself, but help others, too.
In the end, Watts provides a great overall experience in his enduro classes. He combines effective teaching, skill demonstration, practice sessions, and feedback in a manner that helps riders acquire new skills that will inevitably require hours of additional practice to master. And that’s the point. By starting with the fundamentals and building up from there, Watts shows riders how to ride more quickly, safely, efficiently, and with more confidence. Personally, I can’t wait to complete my repairs (lots of lost plastic), get past the soreness, and get back out where I can practice and then run trails. And of course, I can’t wait to show my usual riding pals what I learned. They’ll be just as shocked as I was. I just hope Wicomico will keep the logs around for us to practice on during our future visits to the park.